In the final moments of her life, 19-year-old Annzelma Cintron screamed a warning that saved her older sister and niece.
"Lily!" she shouted. "Lily!"
Cintron, trapped by a fire that had turned her bedroom into an inferno early yesterday, died in a rented rowhouse in the city's Wissinoming section along with her son, Roberto, 3, and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Miguel Rodriguez. Firefighters found them huddled together.
Cintron's sister, Lydia "Lily" Muniz, 26, escaped from a front bedroom with her 4-year-old daughter, Ashley Vargas, and her roommate, Jose Salas, 19.
"If she hadn't screamed my name, we all would have died," Muniz said. "I don't know what gave her the strength to scream my name."
The cause of the 2:24 a.m. fire was a candle burning too close to combustibles, according to the city fire marshal. Muniz thinks her sister left a candle burning on top of the television in her bedroom.
Awakened by Cintron's screams, Salas kicked down her bedroom door, but flames pushed him back. Through the open door, Muniz saw someone standing, badly burned. It might have been her sister. She grabbed her daughter and ran.
One smoke alarm in the house had a dead battery, and the other had no battery, fire officials said.
Jose Cintron, the women's father, rushed to the scene after hearing the news from his older daughter.
"I didn't know what to think; I didn't think it was true," he said. "I had to come down and see for myself."
After she fled the two-story brick corner house, Muniz ran next door, where neighbor Rhonda Wager gave her a robe.
The sisters had lived there less than a year, their children often stopping to play with Wager's kitten. Bruce Wager said he spotted smoke and flames billowing from the back windows when he got up to go to work. He called 911.
Andrea Lee, who lives across the street, said she was awakened by screams and ran to the home to try to help, but the carpeting on the stairs to the second floor had ignited. She heard two explosions.
"I just can't imagine what they were going through," she said.
At midmorning yesterday, three young women stood at Anchor and Ditman Streets, holding each other up and sobbing. They were Cintron's childhood friends from Hunting Park.
"We always said we were sisters," Kenisha Clark said of the foursome.
Cintron was petite. She liked to dance. Last summer, she got her GED, and she had a job at Salad Works at 15th and Spring Garden Streets. She spoke her mind.
"Never held her tongue," said Clark, as the others nodded.
Her pals called her Annie.
"I can hear her laughing," said Rebecca Malave, smiling as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Kiani Clark, Kenisha's sister, saw Cintron the day before she died, and played with Roberto, whom the friends nicknamed "Gordo" because he was a big baby.
"She told me she loved me," Kiani Clark said.
Things were going well for Cintron, and about to get better. Her boyfriend had let her sister in on a secret: He was going to propose to Annzelma late this week.